BOULDER, Colo. -- Former U.S. Olympic skier Jimmie Heuga, who won a bronze medal at the 1964 games and was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis six years later, died Monday. He was 66.
University of Colorado ski coach Richard Rokos, a longtime and close friend of Heuga's, said the former NCAA champion for CU died at Boulder Community Hospital.
"He was a very strong man and an inspiration to so many people in the ski world and the medical world," said Huega's wife, Debbie Huega. "He's skiing the hills of heaven right now."
Rokos said Heuga had recently been dealing with respiratory problems.
Heuga finished third in the slalom at the '64 Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria. Fellow American Billy Kidd won the silver. It was the first time U.S. skiing had gained prominence worldwide.
"Jimmie Heuga was a champion in every sense of the word," said U.S. Ski team president Bill Marolt, who skied with Heuga on the 1964 Olympic Team. "He was a champion as an athlete, as a person and any way you want to measure him.
"When I look back at all the athletes I've known, pound for pound, Jimmie Heuga was the toughest I've ever met. He was a 5-foot-6, 140-pound guy who didn't back down from anybody. That's the kind of toughness you need to be a champion."
Heuga, born in Squaw Valley, Calif., won the 1963 NCAA championship in the slalom.
In 1968, Heuga and Kidd were pictured on the cover of Sports Illustrated before they competed in the Olympics at Grenoble, France.
Heuga was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1970 after displaying symptoms for a year. The effects of the disease eventually confined him to a wheelchair.
"He was the personification of determination and never giving up -- he inspired so many people," Kidd said in release from the U.S. Ski Team. "Jimmie's accomplishments on the race course will forever be remembered. But it's his accomplishments and drive in the fight against MS that will continue to help so many people live their lives. His life is an inspiration."
Heuga founded in 1983 the Jimmie Heuga Center for M.S. in Edwards, a nonprofit organization now called Can Do Multiple Sclerosis.
He spent the last 12 years of his life at the Balfour Retirement Community in Louisville, but still attended two or three Colorado football games every season. He also stayed active by riding a specially made three-wheeler around the track on the CU campus.
"He did so many things you wouldn't expect him to do," said Rokos, who became Heuga's personal coach. "Riding that three-wheeler became his own Olympics."
Heuga was inducted into the United States National Ski Hall of Fame in 1976.
Huega is survived by his wife and their three sons -- Wilder, 20, Blaze, 18, and Winston, 15 -- Debbie Huegas said her husband has a daughter from a previous marriage, Kelly Hamill, of Seattle.